Opinions on what makes a good horror film usually fall into two distinct camps. On the one hand you have those which unsettle and shock audiences, but ultimately sends them home smiling. Then you have ones like Deranged, the notorious cult outing by directors Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsbury, and starring Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee and Leslie Carlson, which leaves the viewer nauseated and repulsed, asking the question ‘was it really necessary’?
Deep in the heart of rural America Ezra Cobb (Blossom) lives alone with his mother Amanda (Lee). When Amanda dies, Ezra is left to fend for himself. Haunted mentally by the presence of his overbearing mother, Ezra embarks on a series of inhuman acts which would go down in the annals of American history as some of the countries most depraved and heinous crimes.
Over the years the life of Ed Geins – the unhinged handyman from La Crosse County, Wisconsin, known as The Plainfield Ghoul and The Mad Butcher, who, after the death of his domineering mother, shocked 1950’s America with his penchant for grave-robbing and fashioning household furniture from human body parts – has proved a rich source of inspiration for cinematic bogeymen including Norman Bates in Psycho (1960), Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Deranged’s Ezra Cobb. However, where Hitchcock’s rendering had some degree of glossy Hollywood respectability, Deranged is more akin to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in its realistic approach to the gruesome story.
Deranged – released in America as Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile, though as Gein never practiced necrophilia this alternative title may be considered misleading – takes visual gore far as was permissible in the early 1970’s, with the closing scenes particularly hard to sit through for those without a cast iron constitution. It’s its sense of depravity and hopelessness however, which leaves the film’s most disturbing mental images. Blossom’s depiction of a man pushed internally to the edge of madness, whilst outwardly appearing sane (if a little odd) is impressive, while the desperation and panic of Micki Moore and Pat Orr as two of his hapless victims is both harrowing and difficult to watch.
Much like Ed Gein himself, the films based on his life are notorious in the main for depicting the depths a human being can sink to under certain circumstances. If watched as a warning against this, films like Deranged could indeed be argued to have some degree of legitimacy. If viewed purely for entertainment purposes this may be considered as something of a moot point.